Another rea­son to flip off the switch tonight

New Straits Times - - World -

PARIS: For the 11th year run­ning, ci­ties world­wide will turn their lights off to­day to mark Earth Hour in a global call to ac­tion on cli­mate change.

But the mo­ment of dark­ness should also serve as a re­minder, ac­tivists say, of another prob­lem that gets far less at­ten­tion: light pol­lu­tion. More than 80 per cent of hu­man­ity lives un­der skies sat­u­rated with ar­ti­fi­cial light, sci­en­tists re­cently cal­cu­lated.

In the United States and western Europe, that fig­ure goes up to 99 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, most of whom can­not dis­cern the Milky Way in the night sky.

Even the most ar­dent crit­ics of light pol­lu­tion are not say­ing ci­ties should go dark, or that light­ing is not an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of ur­ban life.

But so­ci­ety needs to ad­dress a grow­ing list of con­cerns, they sug­gest.

“In gen­eral, it’s get­ting worse,” Diana Umpierre, pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion, said of light pol­lu­tion in her home state of Florida.

And things are mov­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion.

“We are pre­dicted to have 15 mil­lion more res­i­dents in the next 50 years” — with all the ex­tra light­ing that en­tails.

By con­trast, in Chad, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic and Mada­gas­car — not co­in­ci­den­tally among the poor­est coun­tries in the world — three quar­ters of peo­ple have clear view of the heav­ens.

One of the big­gest chal­lenges in fight­ing light pol­lu­tion was con­vinc­ing peo­ple that “bright­ness” was not syn­ony­mous with “safety”, said Umpierre.

“Some­times it’s just the op­po­site,” she ar­gued, cit­ing stud­ies show­ing that peo­ple drove more care­fully — and slowly — on roads with less or no light­ing at night.

Over the last 15 years, bi­ol­o­gists, doc­tors, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions and even the United Na­tions have joined the fight against light pol­lu­tion.

In 2012, the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion con­cluded that ex­po­sure to “ex­ces­sive” night light “can dis­rupt sleep and ex­ac­er­bate sleep dis­or­ders”.

And it called for more re­search into pos­si­ble links to cancer, obe­sity, di­a­betes and de­pres­sion.

Last year, the AMA raised another red flag, this time about lightemit­ting diodes (LEDs).

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments in wealthy coun­tries are rac­ing to re­place ex­ist­ing street­lights with LEDs, which con­sume less en­ergy and last longer.

That is good news for the fight against global warm­ing, cut­ting on fos­sil-fuel burn­ing for elec­tric­ity, but it may be bad news for health, the AMA cau­tioned.

Not only do the bluish, high­in­ten­sity lights cre­ate a view-ob­scur­ing glare, they have “five times greater im­pact on cir­ca­dian sleep rhythms than con­ven­tional street lamps,” the AMA con­cluded.

The new tech­nol­ogy also ob­scured our view on the night sky even more than tra­di­tional city light­ing.

“LEDs could dou­ble or triple the lu­mi­nos­ity of the sky” — which means the stars get lost against the back­ground, said the au­thors of a 2016 world at­las of night sky bright­ness. AFP of humans live un­der skies sat­u­rated with

ar­ti­fi­cial light

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